U.S. prepares to ship 2.9 million Covid vaccine doses; Canada clears Pfizer vaccine

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The Pfizer vaccine rollout continues for the second day in the U.K., but a health regulator has warned that people with a history of severe allergic reactions should skip the shot for now. Members of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are set to meet and discuss the drug on Thursday. Briefing documents circulated by FDA staff on Tuesday ahead of the meeting confirmed the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and said the drug offers some protection after the first dose.

Here are some of the biggest developments Wednesday:

Immunologist Sam Waksal explains the importance of everyone taking the Covid vaccine
Immunologist Sam Waksal explains the importance of everyone taking the Covid vaccine

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 68.86 million 
  • Global deaths: At least 1.56 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 15.38 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 289,373

South Korea installs hospital beds in shipping containers amid shortage

South Korea rushed to install hospital beds in shipping containers to help alleviate a shortage stemming from a resurgence of cases, Reuters reported.

A Seoul quarantine officer told Reuters that only about 3% of hospital beds in the city are available for severe cases.

"We're in a critical situation where our anti-virus efforts and medical system's capacity could reach their limits before long," Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said, according to Reuters.

The country reported 682 new cases Thursday, which Reuters noted was the second highest daily total since the country reported its first case in January.

— Kendrea Liew

FDA will likely look into allergic reaction to vaccine in UK, Trump vaccine chief says

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will likely consider the two allergic reactions reported by U.K. health-care workers vaccinated against Covid-19 as it decides whether to authorize Pfizer's vaccine in the U.S. — though the incident shouldn't be surprising, medical experts said.

Moncef Slaoui, chief science advisor for the White House's Operation Warp Speed, said during a press briefing that it's not unusual that people with severe allergic reactions to vaccines aren't included in clinical trials. Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, echoed Slaoui's remarks in an interview with CNBC.

Schaffner said if the FDA doesn't discuss the allergic reactions during its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meeting on Thursday, it's possible they will be discussed during a meeting with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in the coming days, he said.

It's the sort of issue that the committee "deals with routinely because lots of vaccines are associated with allergic reactions in some small percentage of the population," Schaffner said. However, the allergic reactions shouldn't interfere with the vaccine's authorization, he added.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

U.S. prepares to ship 2.9 million vaccine doses

The federal government has prepared 2.9 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to be distributed immediately after the FDA grants emergency clearance on Pfizer and BioNTech's candidate, U.S. officials said.

An additional 2.9 million doses will be set aside for patients to get their second shot and 500,000 doses have been put in a reserve as a precaution, Gen. Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for President Donald Trump's vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, said during a press briefing.

Eventually, the federal government and states will be more "confident" in the distribution process of the vaccine and a reserve will no longer be necessary, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who is leading Operation Warp Speed, said at the same press briefing. 

The first doses will be sent to 64 jurisdictions as well as five federal agencies, which all locked in their plans to distribute Pfizer's vaccine last Friday, Perna said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking states to prioritize health-care workers and nursing homes first.

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Congress struggles to reach Covid relief consensus

Familiar sticking points in coronavirus relief efforts are hampering efforts to send help to millions of struggling Americans.

As lawmakers try to strike an aid deal before the end of the year, they have failed to reach a consensus on state and local government relief, liability protections for businesses, unemployment insurance and direct payments. They hope to pass a rescue bill by next week, before an expansion of jobless benefits and an eviction moratorium expire.

Democratic leaders have backed a push by rank-and-file lawmakers to craft a $908 billion bill, which would include small business loans, state and local aid and a $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement, among other provisions. They rejected a proposal from the Trump administration that includes legal immunity for businesses and support for state and local governments but lacks an extra federal jobless benefit.

They also cast aside an offer from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to set aside the two thorniest issues in the talks: protections from lawsuits and state and municipal support.

—Jacob Pramuk

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tests positive for Covid

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has tested positive for Covid-19 and is isolating at home, according to a statement. Wolf said he has no symptoms and continues to work remotely.

"As this virus rages, my positive test is a reminder that no one is immune from COVID, that following all precautions as I have done is not a guarantee, but it is what we know to be vital to stopping the spread of the disease," Wolf said in the statement.

Pennsylvania recorded more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday and is currently treating 5,561 patients hospitalized with the virus.

—Sara Salinas

Delta asks more employees to take unpaid leave

Delta CEO Ed Bastian doesn't expect travel demand to rise in the next few months
Delta CEO Ed Bastian doesn't expect travel demand to rise in the next few months

Delta Air Lines is asking more employees to agree to unpaid leaves next year to help cut costs as the carrier and its rivals struggle to cut costs.

Delta and other airlines have warned about a slowdown in travel bookings as coronavirus cases climb.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 501,513 people at U.S. airports on Tuesday, the fewest since July 4 and about a quarter of the 1.9 million people TSA screened a year ago.

Delta's CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC that he doesn't expect demand to recover to more than a third of last year's levels this month, despite the upcoming holidays.

Leslie Josephs

Vaccine offers exhausted health-care workers hope, but not immediate relief

The nation's hospitals are treating 104,600 Covid patients, the most at any point during the pandemic, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic.

Unlike the first wave of Covid hospitalizations in the spring when nurses rushed to hot spots to help care for sick patients, several parts of the country are now experiencing simultaneous strains on their health systems, experts say.

A forthcoming vaccine could soon help alleviate some of the burden facing hospitals and long-term care facilities since health-care workers and vulnerable populations are first in line to be inoculated, said Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety at the American Hospital Association.

But even successful vaccine rollouts likely won't slow virus spread and deaths until the late spring, according to a White House task force weekly report, which was obtained by CNBC.

"We are so tired — emotionally, physically, spiritually," said Tayler Oakes, a 27-year-old travel nurse from Tennessee who is treating Covid-19 patients at a small Navajo Nation health-care facility.

"But then you also have this guilt of like, 'I have to go to work because this isn't a normal job. People are dying.' It's a big moral burden to carry," Oakes said.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Pentagon looks to distribute its first 44,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine next week